Days of Change

The Steel Dossier

March 3, 2018
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Almost any American (and certainly any non-American) would consider this system of government dysfunctional. The reasoning, however, changes based on the party in power, Right now, the Democrats don’t like executive authority because Trump and not Obama has it. Trump supporters don’t like the “swamp” that keeps every law on the hit parade from being passed instantly. Libertarians would have preferred that most of the laws of the last several decades weren’t passed at all.

This week we have the steel tariff. In economics, every transaction goes two ways. If I buy something, I lose money and gain an asset. The seller loses an asset and gains cash. A tariff on steel means that a company that uses steel pays for the steel and a government tax. If that company buys steel domestically, they avoid the tariff, but will pay a higher price.

The tariff is intended to combat Chinese “dumping.” Economically, dumping is selling an asset at less than its intrinsic value to gain market share. In a free market, this would be insane. However, if the Chinese government subsidized companies that engaged in dumping, it would be a long-term plan to destroy an industry so that prices could stabilize in the future.

Then again, whatever the Chinese may think they’re doing, the US companies that use cheap steel are able to make cheaper products. The companies that make the steel can’t compete with China. They also apparently can’t compete with Canada or other countries that sell steel to the US without dumping. Most of the time, Chinese products eventually become the standard, the prices remain low and American workers move from an “old” industry (buggy whips, for example)  to newer industries (intellectual property). On the other hand, we can engage in protectionism, where American companies will make products to any standard they feel like while charging up to the point of a tariff being more economical.

Every financial transaction involves getting something and losing something. The trick is getting the better value. With a tariff, the government is the only one who gets something for nothing.

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What Devin Nunes Did on His Summer Vacation

February 2, 2018
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Now “the memo” is out and it effectively describes what a memo is. Most memorandums are informal records or notes. It’s what companies used before mass e-mails to issue instructions or announcements to employees. If Congressman Nunes went on FOX News and said what he read in meetings, he could be brought up on charges. If he writes his talking points in a memo and it gets released by Republicans in power, its now a “declassified” memo.

Unfortunately, the memo failed the first test. RedState has further enraged the Trumper community by pointing out that Nunes’ written notes on James Comey’s testimony don’t match James Comey’s testimony. This is important because the memo is a sort of executive summary of a lot of non-public activity that should not be available to the people who might be subject to things like FISA warrants. We can’t verify most of the information (much like the Steele dossier) and if what we can verify is wrong, it loses credibility.

If the anti-Trump stuff in the memo is acted upon, the president may have enough ammunition to fire at Robert Mueller. This could lead to impeachment hearings in January next year in a Democratic House or the pardon contingency where New York starts suing Trump over tax fraud using whatever Mueller’s team has found already.

 


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Dead and Loving It

January 20, 2018
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Politics is a job where you have to think multiple moves ahead. When your actions represent that strategy, you look like a scheming, amoral opportunist. Ultimately, a politician either is disliked and has a good chance at a future, or is liked and has a good chance at being defeated.

Donald Trump, morality notwithstanding, has been able to reverse a number of Obama’s Executive actions and got a Supreme Court Justice appointed. The legislative record is thinner. One of the reasons the Democrats were able to exert their will during the Obama administration was because they had the 60 seat filibuster proof majority for a while. Passing laws and budgets is the next stop on the road to government change and the Trump Train may not make it out of the station.

Trump is making himself and his 35% base happy by engaging in battles, but he is also energizing the Democrats who don’t always give a crap in off-year elections. Some politicians who have had a long career in Congress and don’t see much advancement or an easy reelection are deciding to step out now. They’re thinking ahead to lobbying or consulting and serving on boards, all the things Trump supporters hate about politicians. Good candidates to replace them or run in Democrat-held seats are more difficult to find this year. It’s not good long-term strategy to run in a race you’d probably lose.

What’s left? Well, there are a number of Trump supporters who are considering running. Steve Bannon was trying to recruit a slate of them for Senate races before his downfall. Are they solid individuals or a bunch of Roy Moores? Time may tell, but one thing should be taken into account. If these people are pledging their allegiance to Trump, they are not thinking of a political career longer than a Senate term. That may be good in theory, but it makes for a probable Demcoratic takeover in a short amount of time.

What we learned during the Tea Party revolt is that there was a decent amount of crazy among the candidates running under that banner. If Roy Moore is any indication, they are also popular among Trump supporters. I think this video provides an example of the allure of crazy.

The results of 2018 elections should give a good clue as to the effectiveness of Donald Trump’s first (only?) term. Is Trumpism good for rallies and lucky breaks in presidential elections? It is a movement with few signs of effectiveness where they always win despite not giving any signs that can be measured?

Sounds crazy, but some people love that.


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Be Your Own Man

January 14, 2018
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One of the defining characteristics of Donald Trump is that he created and cultivated his own image. He controls the narrative because he doesn’t rely on consultants to tell him how to “spin” what he says. There are many stories of Trump acting as his own public relations agent (John Miller, for example). That assumes Trump either didn’t trust anyone to act in that capacity, or couldn’t find someone who was willing to brag about Trump’s romantic life or the destruction of his enemies.

Steve Bannon was the opposite of that in many ways. Bannon served in the military. He worked in the investment business at Goldman Sachs and helped to produce films and TV shows. Still, Bannon remained behind the scenes. Between the time he became the Executive Chair of Breitbart News until he became the Executive Chair of the Trump Campaign, most stories about Bannon were exposes of him as an unseen force behind the “alt-right.”

I expect that Bannon did not want to outshine Trump as much as he wanted to control the president. Bannon had lists of “promises” to the American people. He was likely the leaker of stories meant to keep Trump in line or disparage his opponents (Ivanka and Jared come to mind). Donald Trump is easily influenced, but his actions are largely dictated by how they will look and how they affect his public image. If that sounds bad, Obama and Clinton operated the same way, only they had other people telling them how to spin the events of the day.

I’ve already predicted that Trump will betray many people before this term is over. Bannon learned that he was a useful tool for Trump, but had no power of his own. His plan to run a series of crazy Roy Moores in nearly every GOP Senate primary is in tatters. He lost the support of megadonor Rebekah Mercer when he supported Moore. This week, he had to step down from Breitbart News when his leaking became more public.

Donald Trump is his own man, Steve Bannon merely tried to benefit off the work of other men.


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Mitt Romney Ran a Terrible Campaign

January 2, 2018
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It may be more accurate to write that Romney ran a terrible national campaign. In the 2012 primaries, Romney won early with 52% of the primary vote and carried 42 states. In 2016, Trump won 41 states and 45% of the vote. However, Trump beat Romney soundly in total votes, 14 million to 10 million. Authentic contests can be very exciting.

Incumbency is tough to beat, but the Romney campaign made mistakes in the way they deployed ads, their reliance of sketchy technology and ignoring the base in the general election. Trump did much of the opposite. He used the free resource of Twitter, augmented technology with old fashioned rallies and talked about issues like fair trade and border security that had become non-issues for many leaders in both parties.

When it comes to statewide office, it’s a different ballgame. Mitt Romney was able to become governor of Massachusetts, not an easy feat in a more liberal state. In 2012, he got nearly 3/4 of the vote of Utah while Donald Trump couldn’t even get 50% (Trump still won because Evan McMullin was a spoiler). This is important today.

Orrin Hatch announced he would not run for reelection in the Senate. The rumor for a while has been that Mitt Romney would like to run for that seat. Romney is a Mormon, a plus in Utah, as well as being the man who made the Salt Lake City Olympics profitable. Plus, his status as a “NeverTrumper” will not negatively impact him in the only state where Evan McMullin polled in double digits.

Even if I find it amusing when Trump has to face reality, Trump opponents in the GOP tend to find themselves without a constituency. Does Romney plan to be part of a Swamp Caucus bent on stopping border security and dismantling Obamacare? I suspect he will be as about as effective with that as he was with the 2012 campaign.

 


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Live in the Now

December 23, 2017
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One thing most people would agree with about Donald Trump is that he is an expert at self-promotion. This is not due to a PR team or a complex media strategy. In fact, Trump was known to be his own hype man under the pseudonym of John Miller. Trump has spent his whole life defining his own reality and had few people interested enough to dispute. It is a singular quality that may make Trump different than any other president.

What Trump and his supporters call success relies on some level of confirmation bias. If something good happens, it was the direct, but not necessarily quantifiable result of Trump’s actions. When something bad happens, it was either out of his hands or the result of some nebulous enemy standing in Trump’s way.

The Steve Bannon controlled site breitbart.com best exemplifies trying to control Donald Trump, failing, and eventually having to simply flatter him and hope for scraps. This article both gives credit to Trump for everything good, while spewing hatred toward the “Never Trumpers” who are supposedly inconsequential yet belong on an enemies list for the rest of time.

If you’re not a Trump booster like 70% of the US population, what does that mean? Back in 2016, I suspect the conservatives who didn’t vote for Trump were motivated by the toxic behavior of his supporters more than any tape from an entertainment show. I certainly wouldn’t make a “I hope he fails” statement about President Trump. Mostly, I want the Republicans to succeed. If Trump’s success is fueled in part by calling every Republican a swamp creature and blaming them when Trump can’t lead the party, I’m not inclined to hope for that kind of individual success either.

Bannon plans to run a stable of candidates in Republican Senate primaries in 2018. His promotion of Roy Moore over Luther Strange actually cost the party a Senate seat. If the Democrats get to 51, prepare for more blocked legislation and a lack of new judges for years to come. Of course, Trump can still argue Republicans lost on their own merits, but that just means Trump was powerless except for his own self-promotion.


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A Win is a Win

December 13, 2017
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The term Trumpism was created as a way to describe a way to be Donald Trump without being Donald Trump. The classic way is to suck up to Trump and hope to be in his orbit. This is how contractors got shafted and investors were bankrupted in Trump’s real estate business. Then there are the people who try to be the loudest blowhard in the room. This is what Roy Moore did.

In terms of the blame game last night, Mitch McConnell was the earliest. He encouraged Trump to support Luther Strange, who already was appointed to the Senate seat and was the “establishment” candidate. Conservatives called “Never Trumpers” believed not enough support was given to Mo Brooks and that led to the Moore / Strange runoff.

The fact is, however, that a win is a win. You can blame Roy Moore or the media or “the swamp” but what should have been a 20 point victory became a 1 point loss. Not only that, but the Republicans have only 51 Senators come January. There are mitigating factors in every race, but wins and losses are easier to put on a graph.

What seems important now is that running with Trump is not a solution. However, running against Trump as a Republican has yielded little in results. At some point, will government just operate as if Trump isn’t there?

 

 


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I Feel Bad for Norm Coleman

December 7, 2017
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Just before Inauguration Day 2009, there were 57 Senators on the Democratic Party side. Roland Burris was accepted as an appointment to replace Barack Obama as Senator from Illinois, even though his appointment was by Governor Rod Blagojevich, who would later be jailed for that action. A few months later, after siding with the Democrats a few times, Arlen Specter switched to the Democratic Party in April.

While 59 seats is a big majority in the Senate, the 60th seat was the key to railroading anything the Democrats wanted. That seat finally went to recent politician and career-long comedy writer Al Franken. Franken ran against Republican Norm Coleman, who held the seat until the election. Coleman and Franken were a few hundred points apart at just under 42% of the vote each.

The problem with voting is that there is so much Democrat cheating that it’s baked into the cake. Even though Coleman was ahead at the start of the night, Franken was eventually considered with winner by a scant 312 votes. While Coleman fought the result for months, there was no way Minnesota wasn’t going to provide that rubber stamp for Obama.

With Al Franken’s departure, it would be interesting for Norm Coleman to run again, but I doubt if that will happen. Sometimes it just takes 8 years to reverse an error.


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The Sisterhood of the Travelling Hands

November 17, 2017
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We all know how this movie ends.

When women accuse men of harassment and are believed, eventually some come out of the woodwork to pursue a grudge, or punish a guy, or make a buck. Then we will be left with the one constant for offenses: the law.

If you are conservative and smart, it’s a good idea to stick with the law. Right now, it’s considered an excuse, but liberals are cannibalizing each other trying to accept that there are plenty of left-wing men doing the wrong thing. In the end, unverified anecdotes will lead to lawsuits against the accusers and all the man-shaming in the world is going to stop it.

 


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Strong and Wrong

October 29, 2017
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There are two important propositions about the 2016 election.

Hillary Clinton would be the worst possible president.

Only Donald Trump can beat Hillary Clinton.

About 52% of the voting public believed #1, but #2 is shrouded in grays. Given the vote on Election Day, there was no one else who could have kept Clinton below the majority of Electoral Votes. But what if NBC had offered Trump a lot more money to do The Apprentice in 2015 or Trump got hit by a taxi. Would the Republicans really have not been able to beat Hillary? Given the fact that people were tired of Obama and hardly anyone ran against Hillary in the primaries, I’d say she’d have lost to any number of people, Jeb and Marco included.

In politics, the definition of winner or loser is subject to the date. Trump was a loser in 1999 when he announced and then withdrew his run for the Reform Party nomination. Hillary Clinton was a winner at the same time, dominating the New York Democratic Party machine and running essentially unopposed for Senator. In 2017, Clinton is now the loser and Trump is the winner. Who knows what will happen in a few years?

Trump is like Barack Obama in that he has a unique relationship with the American public. He can demand legislation be pushed through, but not be involved in writing it. Also, like Obama, Trump can blame Republicans when that process fails. Trump doesn’t accept failure because he usually side steps it. He’s good at cutting his losses. He doesn’t declare bankruptcy. He sells off businesses and the next guy declares bankruptcy. If he loses in 2020, he’ll blame the swamp and move on.

This is one reason Trump can be strong and wrong without worrying about a 35% approval rating. He’s not a politician. Unfortunately, most Republicans in office are. Their loyalty is as strong as what Trump can do for them and he knows this. They will also cut their losses, especially if a Roy Moore loss leads to a 51 Senator majority.

Welcome to the do nothing constructive Congress,


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